Siddhartha’s insistence on quest for self defying all doctrines and teachings does not mean that Hesse wished to propound any sort of anarchism against the society. In fact, Hesse believed that only through some sort of individualism each individual can be made responsible for his actions.
Hesse may sound just another romantic preacher; however, in a world mired by deadly ideologies seeking justifications from Jesus to Nietzsche, and to Marx, Hesse’s concerns would hardly need any justification.
Siddhartha was born in the aftermath of the World War I and another great World War loomed large. Hesse through his allegorical message in Siddhartha makes an anxious call to the youths for defiance against growing material and military pursuits.
Similarly, Hesse was also concerned over the individual’s predicament in the capitalism driven modernity. The collapse of the whole European civilization seemed imminent due to rising political, cultural, and ideological conflicts. At the time of chaos in the Western Civilization’s history, Hesse turns to the East in search of fresh ideas and values.
However, an individual can only be persuaded to turn inward when he realizes the futility of worldly pursuits of having power over others. The need to control and manipulate the outer world only evaporates when one recognizes that his existence as a being is relatively negligible in comparison to the vastness of the spatial and temporal dimensions of the universe.
Therefore, through the excessive individualism of his protagonists like Siddhartha, Hesse as an eye-witness of the greatest human conflicts such as the World War I and World War II seems to be searching for an alternative society among the people divided into various ideological, religious and communal identities.
Hesse saw that despite humankind’s tremendous accumulation of knowledge and prosperity the sheer disregard for diversity was leading the world toward perpetual conflicts. The duality of existence as in the mind and the real world and their address in various spiritual disciplines, the visits to psychoanalysis lessons, and subsequent profound interest in Freudian and especially in Jungian psychology were to influence him the most to arrive at his premises.
Hesse seems to realize that extreme nationalism and the desire to have power over others result in millions of innocent death and innumerable sufferings. In Siddhartha, Hesse creates a utopian world where power and wealth are ephemeral pursuits and chasing after them being an act of utter foolishness. Thus Siddhartha can be seen as Hesse’s antithesis to collectivist tendencies in the form of nationalist, racial, cultural, and ideological doctrines, and an effort to establish the individual’s inward quest for self as beneficial to both the individual and the society.
However, Hesse knew how calls for peace would only be taken as quixotic idealism. He also knew that he would not be able to stop the next war that was sure to happen. Hesse seems to profess his belief that a true hero is not someone who dies in war or kills a fellow being, but one who synchronizes the conflicting tendencies present within himself.
Siddhartha proves that the secret of life can not be taught by any teacher, nor by following any dogma, but can only be known through the individual’s own inward journey into the self. Siddhartha also shows that initial disobedience that a self-willed person shows against authorial power is far more responsible than the sheepish conformity with respect to the universal law of humanity.
Hesse’s ideal back to nature world of Siddhartha may also be been seen as another flawed utopia. However, the creation of utopia, no matter how flawed it may, was nevertheless a deliberate attempt. For Hesse, it was necessary to create such a utopic world as the devastations of the World War I were not over yet, and the possibility of even a greater war seemed imminent.
To persuade his countrymen and the whole humanity against committing yet another civilizational blunder, Hesse wished to develop a new social movement himself. To dissuade the youths from the Nazi, Fascist and war calls other political clouts, it was necessary to detach their attention from politics of ideologies, militarism and nationalism.
Hesse believed that the individual will should not identify itself with the collective will of the society or the nation. Thus, it was necessary to turn the youths’ attention toward a very different culture than their own. Resorting to different Eastern concepts in Siddhartha seems to be just an excuse for Hesse to adapt Nietzschean amor fati or “will to power” into his own form of Eugensinn or self-will, so that individuals could be persuaded to take inward journey to self. However, Hesse wanted to emphasize that the Nietzchean concept of “will to power” referred to the will of an individual to have power over his own destiny, but not to have power over others.
It was important for Hesse to elaborate Nietzsche’s ideas, as the Anti-Semites, the Nazis, and other authoritarians were distorting Nietzsche’s philosophy for their bigotry. Siddhartha may be seen as a truly Nietzschean model of Ubermensch or Superman who does not follow any doctrine blindly, but dares for an inward search to find the true nature of his self.
The concept of Superman was Nietzsche’s call for the individuals to achieve their ultimate potential, but not for groups, parties, nations and epochs. Hence, through Siddhartha’s personal journey of seeking his self and realizing his potential, Hesse points out that perfection in world comes only when each individual establishes harmony with his own self.
Hesse’s persistent concern is to find an escape for the individual from not only the societal bondage but also from one’s own dual and conflicting tendencies. Hesse believed that outer conflict was only the manifestation of the conflicting instinctual drives within every individual.
Hence, Hesse found it necessary to convince each individual to understand their own nature through intense self-examination and synchronize the polar opposites within themselves into a harmonious unity.
Once an individual is persuaded to delve into the study of his own self, the desire to gain control over others would soon evaporate. Experimenting with one’s own body and mind has been a favorite intellectual and spiritual activity of the ancient Orientals.
In Siddhartha, Hesse makes his affluent and yet discontented Western readers travel through time and space to learn how the people from a distant past and distant culture with so little material possession had invented for every individual a way of happy and peaceful existence.
Thus, Siddhartha’s extreme individuality can be seen as Hesse’s method as well as belief in human capacity for self-cure without any external interference – and for Hesse self-cure was the only cure for treating the whole humanity’s suffering.
The rising confrontations between various forms of ideologies persuaded Hesse to profess his own version individualism with the belief that individuals who join the masses lose their rational faculties. It should be noted that Hesse is not making any authoritative elaboration or comparison of diverse concepts he borrows from both the Eastern and Western traditions in Siddhartha.
From Atman to Brahman, from Buddha to Nietzsche, from psychology to mysticism, and from search for self to enlightenment, Hesse uses all these concepts as devices to demonstrate how the individual’s Eugensinn or self-will can be used to create a more harmonious society by reconciling the conflicting tendencies within every individual. Siddhartha shows that the world outside is not a hindrance but a succor in one’s efforts for self-actualization.
In the initial days, when Siddhartha seeks for the mystery of his self as separated and different from others, he realizes that he is in fact fleeing from what he seeks – self-knowledge. The more Siddhartha grows toward enlightenment, more he identifies with other fellow beings thus expanding his empathy for others.
Thus, even through intense self-will and individualism, Siddhartha ultimately learns to appreciate unity in the plurality of existence. It should be noted that by his denial of following Buddha, Siddhartha is not undermining Buddha’s achievement.
Siddhartha, by looking beyond Buddha’s reputation, simply conveys Hesse’s message that wisdom is not communicable through words and doctrines. The only doctrine of love than Siddhartha professes after his enlightenment was Hesse’s call for humanity to appreciate their fellow beings instead of making war citing ideological, racial, and cultural differences.
Through Siddhartha’s denial of all doctrines, Hesse persuades each individual to be independent thinkers and arrive at a conclusion based on their own individual experience. Siddhartha’s ultimate enlightenment transcending all sufferings and with perpetual bliss certainly seem like a utopist’s dream.
Despite its utopic vision, Siddhartha offers hope for humanity, a hope between the two greatest World Wars that threatened the very survival of the human existence. Through the protagonist’s extreme individualism in quest for self and enlightenment, Hesse creates a utopic worldview in Siddhartha to prove his proposition that an individual’s inward quest for self is the only antidote to humanity’s collective madness for power.